You don’t need to look at the news to tell that there’s a lot of chaos in the world right now. All you need to do is scroll through your Facebook feed! The chaos isn’t in any isolated location, it’s all around us. The recent political events, that resulted in Donald Trump as the President of the United States, has shaken us to the core. Riots and protests have risen in the streets and social media has exploded with crazy sauce! Many people have made their opinions hard to miss and those who oppose these opinions have been fighting them tooth and nail. It’s a constant back and forth that will never lead to progress. However, do not mistake my words for apathy. I do understand where people’s frustrations are coming from, but I also recognize their flaws. I think two of the biggest issues facing us today are that people are not listening to one another or thinking critically about many issues. I have known people who support something for reasons they cannot provide. Sometimes they just do so because another person who shares in their general belief system says so. As an intelligent people, we need to think critically for ourselves and we need to encourage others to do the same.
There is a perfusion of “fake news” or news that is mostly or entirely false, but used as click-bate to attract readers. The headlines are often so obscure and insane that it often demands a double take, then after you read it carefully it demands a hearty laugh as you continue to scroll past it. However, several people, excuse me, millions of people have been duped into believing fake news. An NPR segment with Craig Silverman, media editor for Buzzfeed, shed some light on the topic by sharing the truth about fake news to willing audiences. Surprisingly, hundreds of fake news articles come out of Macedonia in the Balkans, where young teenagers (who know little to nothing about American politics) capitalize on the intensifying political climate in the U.S. According to Silverman, who was able to interview some of these fake website owning teens, they follow the trends, create websites they know will attract viewers and make money. A lot of their content is based loosely on very biased conservative media content that they have tweaked to gain attention. They often evoke a strong emotional response. They understand that feeding into extreme biases is the way to more money. As a result, media platforms, that actually broadcast truthful content, get left in the dust. In the 35 minute interview Silverman talks about the phenomenon: “…For the pages that were partisan pages on the right and the left, if you had stuff that really appealed to people’s existing beliefs, [content that] really appealed to a negative perception of Hillary Clinton [or] a negative perception of Donald Trump – even if it completely bent the truth, that would perform much better than a sort of purely factual thing.”
The fact of the matter is that we as people do not psychologically like to be wrong. So we look for media that confirms our biases. If it disagrees with us, we probably won’t consider it, we’ll probably double down on what we already believe. That’s the power of false news. As the interview goes on, Silverman also states, ““So if you’re reading stuff that aligns perfectly with your political beliefs, it makes you feel really good and really excited and you share it, Facebook is going to see that as a signal that you want more of that stuff. So that’s why the false misleading stuff does really well is because it’s highly emotion-driven. It tells people exactly what they want to hear. It makes them feel very comforted and it gets them to react on the platform. And the platform sees that content does really well and Facebook feeds more of it to more people.”
We need to be critical observers of media content. Be very critical of what you read always, because biases and information often creep into news content and you need to keep yourself informed not brainwashed. If you come across some piece of information, try to look it up using multiple websites. You want to view the issue from a few different prospectives. We must educate ourselves every day. Learn what motivates the opposing side. Where do their beliefs come from and why do they believe the way they do. Educate yourself, educate yourself, educate yourself.
No one is going to want to hear this, but we need to have more dialogue between the two opposing sides and actually listen to each other. Many of my friends on Facebook are assuming things about the participants of the Women’s March without actually having ANY evidence to back it up. They simply think they know what liberals are thinking. Liberals are guilty of this as well! Many assume that Trump supporters are all racist and sexist. That isn’t always the case. Lack of understanding and the profusion of misinformation, I believe, can stem from people being unwilling to actually want the truth, so we’ll believe anything that lines up with our views. Try not to let your emotions get the better of you while researching ideologies of the opposing side, simply seek to learn. I know this is VERY hard, but please understand the incredible benefits it will have for you and others around you. One, you will not be able to count yourself as one of those poor misinformed people shouting non-sense that isn’t actually true. These people contribute to the problem. You want to be part of the solution. Two, you’ll be able to eloquently state facts instead of “feelings” or “opinions” whenever faced with someone who is attacking your side. I say that no one wants to hear this because some people may say “I’m tired of listening! These people are insane!!” But have you really been listening?
Please don’t think I’m condoning complacency, but I do think you should educate yourself and do your research BEFORE moving on to the more active responses. The more we educate ourselves and try to understand each other the better off we’ll be.